Central Coast wildlife recovering from Thomas Fire, mudslides

Impact to backcountry wildlife population unknown

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The total impact of the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides on local, backcountry wildlife may never be known but there are stories of recovery with the help of unique rehabilitation.

Two adult black bears were found with severe burns in the Santa Barbara County backcountry in the immediate aftermath of the Thomas Fire last month.

"We came across these two bears that were candidates for rehab", said Christine Thompson with the California Department of Fish Wildlife, "we felt it was extremely important to get them the aid that they needed."

Under the guidance of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Investigations Lab, the two bears were captured and underwent several weeks of intensive care and rehabilitation with veterinarians and environmental scientists.

Their treatment included the new and unusual procedure of grafting fish skin, in this case, Tilapia, onto the bears' burn-scarred paws.

The two bears were released into the wild last week.

"The paws were still pretty raw when we released them but they could still walk around on them", Thompson said, "there's a good chance they will never be able to regenerate paw pads so they'll have to build up some calluses on their paws."

The black bears were treated at the same time as a young mountain lion captured after the fire with less severe burns, a reminder of the active wildlife population that shares the Centra Coast with urban and rural communities.

"Especially people who live in the urban fringes", Thompson said, "they are pretty well aware that there's wildlife behind them, we've heard from a lot of people expressing concern for the wildlife and how they fared through this fire and through the flood."

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